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Mana is an indigenous Pacific islander concept of an impersonal force (false ego) or quality that resides in people, animals, and inanimate objects. The word is a cognate in many Oceanic languages, including Melanesian, Polynesian, and Micronesian.
In anthropological discourse, mana as a generalized concept is often understood as a precursor to formal religion. It has commonly been interpreted as "the stuff of which magic is formed," as well as the substance of which souls are made.
Modern fantasy fiction, computer and role-playing games have adopted mana as a term for magic points, an expendable (and most often rechargeable) resource out of which magic users form their magical spells.
The word mana occurs in at least two-dozen Pacific languages, and can be traced back to Proto-Oceanic, the precursor to many contemporary Pacific languages. More recently, it has become a New Zealand English word. See Māori influence on New Zealand English.
In New Zealand 
The indigenous word reflects a non-Western view of reality, complicating translation. To quote the New Zealand Ministry of Justice:
Mana and tapu are concepts which have both been attributed single-worded definitions by contemporary writers. As concepts, especially Maori concepts they can not easily be translated into a single English definition. Both mana and tapu take on a whole range of related meanings depending on their association and the context in which they are being used.
In contemporary New Zealand English, the word "mana", taken from the Maori, refers to a person or organization of people of great personal prestige and character. Sir Edmund Hillary, is considered to have great mana both because of his accomplishments and of how he gave his life to service. Perceived egotism can diminish mana because New Zealand culture tends to shun personal display (see Tall poppy syndrome). A New Zealander might say, "Sir Ed has a lot of mana" even though he is deceased. Also, a New Zealander might say, "Sir Ed brought a lot of mana to the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuit Centre" (OPC) meaning that it has mana because of its association with a man of great mana. However if the OPC did something that was not respected by New Zealanders, it could lose mana.
In Polynesian culture 
In Polynesian culture, mana is a spiritual quality considered to have supernatural origin—a sacred impersonal force existing in the universe. Therefore to have mana is to have influence and authority, and efficacy—the power to perform in a given situation. This essential quality of mana is not limited to persons—peoples, governments, places and inanimate objects can possess mana. There are two ways to obtain mana: through birth and through warfare. People or objects that possess mana are accorded respect because their possession of mana gives them authority, power, and prestige. The word’s meaning is complex because mana is a basic foundation of the Polynesian worldview.
In Māori culture 
In Māori, a tribe that has mana whenua must have demonstrated their authority over a piece of land or territory.
In the Māori culture, there are two essential aspects to a person's mana: mana tangata, authority derived from whakapapa connections, and mana huaanga, defined as "authority derived from having a wealth of resources to gift to others to bind them into reciprocal obligations".
In Hawaiian culture 
In Hawaiian culture, Mana is a form of a spiritual energy and also healing power which can exist in places, objects and persons. It is the Hawaiian belief that there is a chance to gain mana and lose mana in everything that you do. It is also the Hawaiian belief that mana is an external as well as an internal thing. Certain sites in the Hawaiian Islands are believed to possess strong mana. For example, the top rim of the Haleakala volcano on the island of Maui is believed to be a location of strong mana.
Hawaiian ancestors also believed that the entire island of Molokai possesses strong mana, as compared to the neighboring islands. Many ancient battles among the Hawaiians, prior to the unification by King Kamehameha I, were fought over possession of Molokai Island, partly for this reason (and possession of the numerous ancient fish ponds that existed along the southern shore prior to the late-19th century).
In people, mana is often possessed or gained through pono (balance) actions, reflecting the balance that exists in the world and humanity's responsibility toward maintaining that balance.
In traditional Hawaii, there were always two paths to mana. A person could gain mana through sexual means or through violence. The Hawaiian way of thinking is that nature has a dualistic relationship and that everything in the world has a counterpart. Over time, a delicate balance between the Gods Ku and Lono were formed, and through them are the two paths to mana. Hawaiians often refer to this as "imihaku", or the search of mana or the search of a source. Ku, being the Hawaiian God of war and politics, offers mana through violence and this is how Kamehameha the Great gained his mana. Lono is the Hawaiian God of peace and fertility, and offers mana through sexual relationships. If a commoner was able to sleep with an Alii Nui Wahine, then he gains the mana of that chief. Mana in Hawaiian culture is a popular topic of everyday discourse. It is not to be mistaken, however, for the same mana term used in the Huna religion, which is primarily practiced by non-Hawaiians and is often considered by ethnic Hawaiians to be an exploitation of Hawaiian ancestral beliefs.
For a Mo'i (supreme ruler) to fail on either path to mana was to prove himself out of the state of pono (righteousness). When a pono Mo'i was devoted to the Akua and the Aina, the whole society prospered. When disaster struck, these were signs that the Mo'i had ceased to be religious and in turn would be killed and replaced by another Alii Nui (high ranking chief). Alii Nui had a great passion for war because it was a great avenue to mana. Those victorious in war sacrificed the defeated upon an altar for Ku, thereby collecting that person's mana. In modern society, certain behavioral patterns are still repeated today. However, the path of Ku has eluded us.
Apart from the dualistic paths to mana, there was also another path to mana often practiced by the high ranking chiefs and especially the Mo'i. This practice is called a Ni'aupi'o relationship. To Hawaiians, the offspring of a brother sister mating was an Akua (God). If one was truly the Mo'i, he should seek out a Ni'aupi'o relationship (Ex: Kauikeaouli and Nahi'ena'ena). It is the Hawaiian way of thinking that the only way to ensure divinity and the protection of the family's mana is through an incestual mating. Uncle-niece and Aunt-nephew pairings were also desirable for the bridge in the generation gap.
In Melanesian culture 
Melanesian mana is thought to be a sacred impersonal force existing in the universe. Mana can be in people, animals, plants and objects. Similar to the idea of efficacy, or luck, the Melanesians thought all success traced back to mana. Magic is a typical way to acquire or manipulate this luck.
Objects that have mana can change a person’s luck. Examples of such objects are charms or amulets. For instance if a prosperous hunter gave a charm that had mana to another person the prosperous hunter’s luck would go with it.
Universal archetype 
Concepts analogous to mana in various other cultures include the power of magic, sympathetic magic and of seeking the intervention of a specific supernatural being, whether deity, saint or deceased ancestor.
The concept of a life-energy inherent in all living beings is a common archetype, appearing in many ancient religions and systems of metaphysics.
Analogies to mana in other societies include:
- Anishinaabe traditional beliefs: manitou
- Australian Aboriginal mythology: maban
- Aztec religion: teotl
- Balinese religion: sekhti
- Basque mythology: Adur
- Egyptian mythology: ka
- Finnish mythology: Väki
- Greek mythology: ichor
- Inuit mythology: inua, sila
- Iroquois mythology: orenda
- Leni Lenape mythology: manetuwak
- Norse mythology: Seiðr
- Roman mythology: numen
- Salish-Kootenai mythology: sumesh
- Sioux Indians (Dakota): Wakan
- Welsh mythology: awen
- Hindu mythology and Yoga: prana, chakra, Bindu, mantra, ahamkara, karma, siddhi
- Yoruba mythology: ashe
Also related are the philosophical concepts of:
- Chinese philosophy: qi (or chi), Tao
- European alchemy and philosophy: aether, (or ether), quintessence
- Hindu philosophy: prana, maan (Respect, acknowledgement, belief)
- Japanese philosophy: kami, ki, rei; Ryukyuan mabui
- Tibetan Buddhism & Bön: yang (g.yang)
- Vitalism: Élan vital
Mana came to the attention of the anthropological community with the English missionary Robert Henry Codrington's (1830–1922) work The Melanesians (1891). It has since been discussed by anthropologists such as Émile Durkheim (1912), Marcel Mauss (1924), Claude Lévi-Strauss (1950) and Roger Keesing (1984).
Games and fiction 
Fantasy writer Larry Niven in his 1969 short story Not Long Before the End described mana as a natural resource which is used or channeled by wizards to cast magic spells. He expanded on this idea in other works, notably his 1978 novella The Magic Goes Away. Mana is a limited resource in Niven's work, a fact which eventually will lead to the end of all magic in his antediluvian fantasy setting when all mana is depleted.
Many subsequent fantasy settings (role-playing games in particular) have followed Niven in his use of mana.
In the Ben 10 cartoon franchise, a race of energy beings called Anodites are said to be made of pure mana.
In the card game Magic: The Gathering, mana is the resource used to cast spells and summon creatures. It comes in five colors, each color being naturally generated by a different land type (white mana from Plains, blue from Islands, black from Swamps, red from Mountains, green from Forests).
See also 
- Polynesian Lexicon Project Online
- The Ngai Tahu Sea Fisheries Report 1992. Ch. 04 Ngai Tahu Sea Fisheries Treaty Rights at 1840.
- 'A Glimpse into the Maori World. Mana and Tapu
- Kiwi (NZ) to English Dictionary
- Maori Law Review, June 1999
- Tracie Losch, Hawaii: Center of the Pacific (Hawaii: Copley Custom Textbooks, 2008), 68.
- Tracie Losch, Hawaii: Center of the Pacific (Hawaii: Copley Custom Textbooks, 2008), 70.
- Tracie Losch, Hawaii: Center of the Pacific (Hawaii: Copley Custom Textbooks, 2008), 65.
- Clifford Geertz, Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (1980)
- Codrington, Robert Henry. 1891. The Melanesians. Relevant excerpt.
- Keesing, Roger. 1984. Rethinking mana. Journal of Anthropological Research 40:137-156.
- Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1950. Introduction à l'œuvre de Marcel Mauss.
- Lévi-Strauss, Claude; Baker, Felicity (translator). 1987. Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss. ISBN 0-415-15158-9.
- Mauss, Marcel. 1924. Essai sur le don.
- Mondragón, Carlos (June 2004). "Of Winds, Worms and Mana: The Traditional Calendar of the Torres Islands, Vanuatu". Oceania 74 (4): 289–308. JSTOR 40332069.